Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Teaching High School English

When I considered homeschooling for high school, the subject that concerned me most was English. I love to read and did read many classics in high school and college. However, I had no confidence in my ability to teach a student how to analyze literature, to understand its meaning and context, to analyze the literary elements. But I found that for English, as for the other subjects, there are several programs that will help me do that!

When Emily was in 6th or 7th grade, we reviewed Excellence in Literature. She was a bit young for the program, so we just did a couple of units, then put it aside until she was a bit older. Still, I realized that this program gave me some structure and enough guidance that I felt that teaching high school literature and analytical essays was doable. Then, I discovered 2015-09-29 15.14.26Lightning Literature. It was a bit easier to use, both for me and for Emily, so that was our primary curriculum for 9th grade. In addition to comprehension questions and essay prompts, it provides explicit lessons in each unit for topics such as plot elements, conflict, rhyme, and setting that are incorporated into the writing prompts.

This year, we’re using Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide. The focus of this course is the use of conflict throughout each of the focus novels. It includes vocabulary, comprehension, writing, discussion, literary elements, and projects in each chapter.

Here are reviews I’ve written on each of these literature programs:

Lightning Literature

Illuminating Literature

Excellence in Literature

We did some grammar instruction for 9th grade, but won’t be studying grammar formally anymore. We will incorporating some vocabulary study. This year, we’re using Greek Morpheme Lessons. We’re also using The Power in Your Hands for additional writing instruction this year. I am hoping that Emily’s writing will become more polished this year and want to focus on teaching her to write well-organized essays.

As Emily begins the 10th grade, not only am I feeling confident about teaching classic literature and writing skills, I’m excited about re-visiting books that I read long ago and looking forward to finding more favorites.

Read more about High School Language Arts at these other blogs!

Homeschooling High School Blog Hop 2015

Carol from Home Sweet life shares Homeschooling High School- Language Arts (&History!)

Leah from As We Walk Along the Road shares Teaching Language Arts in High School: Curriculum and Activity Choices

Tess from Circling Through This Life shares Teaching High School Language Arts: Resources

Michele from Family, Faith and Fridays shares Language Arts

Wendy from Life at Rossmont shares Highschool Language Arts

Erica from Be the One shares Language Arts Resources

Kym  from Homeschool Coffee Break shares History in the Form of Stories

Gena from I Choose Joy shares Homeschool High School: Using Socratic Discussion for Literature Studies

Laura from Day by Day in Our World shares How to Teach High School Language Arts Without Tears

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Middlebury Spanish (Schoolhouse Review)

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Last year, Emily took the Middlebury High School Spanish I Course. She enjoyed this course and learned a lot, so we were happy to have the opportunity this month to review the Middlebury Interactive Languages Spanish II Course. Foreign languages are one area in which students really need outside help if there isn’t a native speaker in the home. Certainly, a classroom, or better yet, a private tutor would be ideal for learning languages, but homeschoolers can’t necessarily afford, or even have the opportunity to learn languages in this way. We’ve tried various Spanish programs and have found online programs to be a good choice for good instruction in a cost-effective manner. With Middlebury Interactive Languages, Emily is able to listen to a native speaker (which is not typically the case in school classrooms), receive immediate feedback for her lessons, and review lessons as many times as needed.

Each Middlebury Spanish II Unit is 5 days long and includes vocabulary, grammar instruction, culture lessons, listening, speaking, and writing practice.  Days 3 and 4 include quizzes, and day 5 consists of a unit test and a writing or speaking test.  There are 18 units in a semester, so it is necessary for the student to complete a lesson every day in order to complete the course in a timely manner. Emily was able to complete lessons in 30-60 minutes, though, so keeping up wasn’t a problem.

Middlebury offers a fairly traditional approach for language learning. The early lessons teach basic vocabulary and phrases along with basic grammar concepts, such as present tense conjugation, proper use of adjectives, word order, etc. Listening, speaking, and writing activities all reinforce the grammar and vocabulary for each lesson. (Middlebury also offers an immersive curriculum, which may vary in presentation—I haven’t seen that one.) By the start of Spanish II, all of the instructions are in Spanish (although there is fortunately a translation icon), and the speech is quite rapid.


Activities include:

  • Matching pictures with vocabulary.
  • Matching full sentences with the corresponding picture.
  • Repeating words and sentences in Spanish.
  • Writing out paragraphs that use the key grammar and vocabulary from the unit in response to a prompt.
  • Recording responses to a prompt.
  • Listening to a recorded sentence and putting the scrambled print words in the correct order.
  • Filling blanks in sentence with properly conjugated verbs.



Our experience: Emily is finding Spanish II quite challenging. Last year, she completed Spanish I, semester I, then used some other Spanish materials, so I thought she would be ready for Spanish II. She’s doing well, but it is definitely stretching her abilities! Right now, she’s working on memorizing the irregular forms of the preterite tense. There are several different activities to help her practice this, but it is a lot to cover in a week or two. She has complained that the speech is too fast and it does, indeed, seem very rapid for Spanish learners. Fortunately, she is able to listen to the sentences and longer narratives over and over as she tries to pick out words. (It’s kind of fun to see her hunched close to the computer listening intently!)imageimage










There are two forms of Middlebury Language Programs: Without teacher ($119 per semester) and With Teacher ($294). We used the No Teacher option and found that there were a few features lacking, since it seems to be designed to have one of their teachers checking work. While most assignments are checked by the computer, some, such as writing assignments and recordings, are sent to a “to be graded” folder. While I could see the written assignments and give them a grade myself if I chose, there was no way to mark that grade to be included in Middlebury’s grading calculations. Also, some of Emily’s recorded assignments didn’t save. They were marked as completed, but her recorded speech was not there for me to listen to later. Despite these little glitches, Middlebury Spanish is a very solid program. I feel that Emily is making a lot of progress in vocabulary, grammar, and in listening comprehension.

Changes I would love to see:

  • A parent log-in that allows the parent to reset lessons and tests if the student needs more practice and that allows the parent to assign a grade for the teacher-graded assignments.
  • The interface is a little strange. Upon opening the program, the user sees a calendar with lessons scheduled and may click on those lessons to open them. However, the lessons were pre-scheduled, beginning before we even had access to the program and offered no days off, so the dates were all inaccurate for where we were in the program. There was no way for me to change this. I would have loved to be able to adjust the calendar myself. This didn’t affect our use of the program at all, but I’d rather not see a calendar at all than one that showed Emily to be continually behind schedule.  Lessons are also accessible from the Table of Contents tab, which is what we generally used.

Overall, this is my favorite language program of the many that we’ve tried because it is enjoyable, comprehensive, and follows a traditional enough scope and sequence that I feel comfortable giving high school credit for it and trusting that Emily could transfer into a classroom or eventually a college class and be on track. Emily is enjoying the course and it’s usually the first assignment she completes each day.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Wonky and Tapple Games (Schoolhouse Review)

I always love to try out new games, and reviewing games certainly is a fun change from reviewing  more serious curricula, so we were happy to be chosen to review two games from USAopoly: Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game, and Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone.


Before we even played the games, I noticed that both were desiP1050373gned for space-saving storage. Tapple didn’t come with a great box for storage, but since the cards store oh-so-cleverly on the back of the playing board, you don’t even need to save the box!

I’ll probably keep the Wonky box, just because it so so cute—notice it’s “wonky shape!” However, the blocks and cards can be stored efficiently in the included P1050370purple storage bag—so easy to stick in a cabinet or to carry somewhere. We have so many games that storage is a big issue. I love that USAopoly has made efficient storage a priority!

I also appreciated that both games could be played with only two players, since we have a household of two right now.

Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone is a category game that reminds me of another game we own—an all-time favorite of my kids. Game play is simple. The included deck of cards names categories. Each round uses one category. The timer is started, giving the first player 10 seconds to name an item from that category starting with any letter. The player presses down the letter tab, marking that letter as “used” for the round. Then the timer is started again and the next player names a item in the same category starting with any letter that hasn’t been used yet. If a player can’t think of an item, then he or she is out for the round. The last person left keeps the card. Then the process starts over.


We thought this game was a lot of fun. The rules were quick to learn; the game moved fast, and it was quick enough to pull out for a short 10-minute game. (No  hour-long time commitment needed here.) It’s also adaptable. I had 5 minutes left in the chemistry lab that I teach, so I pulled out Tapple and let the kids compete naming chemical elements and their symbols. It was a hit and was a fun way to review. I’ll be looking for more ways to adapt it for school use! Emily doesn’t like a lot of games, but really enjoyed this one.

Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game is also easy to learn and play. Players try to be the first to run out of cards while stacking the Wonky blocks, a set of blocks in 3 sizes and 3 colors,  a total of 9 blocks. The blocks aren’t quite cubes, with angled and curved sides, so stacking them can be quite a challenge. On each turn, a player plays a card and stacks a block. Playing cards illustrate the possible moves a player can take on his or her turn: a medium green block, a large purple block, a small blue block, any small block, and so on. Specialty cards allow players to reverse play, require another player to draw a card, or skip a turn at stacking. If the blocks fall on your turn, you must draw 3 more cards.



I thought Wonky was pretty fun, but Emily didn’t care for it. The blocks are pretty hard to stack, but the game just wasn’t as challenging as we thought it would be. This game is for ages 8 and up, but the cards are designed to work with non-readers, so I think it could be used with even 5 year olds. Teens probably won’t get excited about this game, but it is a good family game because it is active and can include younger children.

I also adapted this game to use with a 7-year-old girl that I’m doing speech therapy with and her older sister. She’s working on her “r” sound, so we added the rule that she had to describe each card (played by anyone) before the block was stacked. There were a lot of “r” words to practice: card, large, purple, reverse, tower,  She made sentences like:

  • This card has a large blue block.
  • I’m adding a purple block to the tower.
  • Draw an extra card.

The girls begged to play Wonky again next week, so it was a big hit with the younger crowd as well as a fun method for speech practice!


Both games are a welcome addition to our game collection!

 USAopoly Review

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

That’s What She Wrote…


I am forever impressed by the creativity of my children. A few months ago, my daughter Allison decided to teach herself calligraphy in preparation for addressing her wedding invitations next year. Then she added watercolor calligraphy to her repertoire of talents and has now opened an Etsy shop featuring quotes from the TV show, The Office. (And she finds the time for her creativity after long days at work as an M.D.)

Aren’t these cute? You can visit her shop, That’s What She Wrote to see more!


Monday, September 21, 2015

William Penn (Heroes of History Series) Review

HEROES OF HISTORY<BR>William Penn: Liberty and Justice for All

William Penn: Liberty and Justice for All, by Janet and Geoff Benge, is one of many selections from the Heroes of History series by YWAM Publishing. We received this book, along with the corresponding Unit Study Curriculum Guide for review.

This biography tells the story of William Penn, from his early childhood in England through the establishment of Pennsylvania as a colony. Most of Penn’s story actually takes place in England against a backdrop of a tumultuous time in British history. The story begins with the beheading of Charles I and continues through the rule of Cromwell, Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Queen Anne. Because Penn’s father was a wealthy landowner, he had a prominent place in British society and their fortunes and favor tended to ebb and flow depending on who was in power.

Although William Penn was a Quaker and is best known for his founding of Pennsylvania on the Quaker principles of tolerance and fairness for all, he became a Quaker as a young adult. This resulted in walls between his father and him and caused many incarcerations, since none of the British governments, Catholic, Puritan, or Church of England, during his life were sympathetic or tolerant toward Quakers.

We learned or reviewed a lot about British history and Quakers as well as about the founding of Pennsylvania in this book. I would consider William Penn: Liberty and Justice for All most appropriate for upper elementary and middle school ages, although my high school student enjoyed it as well.P1050383

I was very impressed with the study guide. In addition to the expected comprehension questions for each chapter, this small guide was loaded with other discussion and activity suggestions. Each chapter included one discussion question that required critical thinking and application of the concepts, such as,

“Admiral Penn claimed that the English peasants were better workers than the Irish peasants. do you think this was true, or was there some other reason he wanted English peasants in Macroom? Explain your answer.”

There is a study guide section devoted to “Key Quotes,” which included famous quotes that related to the book. We enjoyed discussing the meanings of ideas like:

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain

Emily chose activities from Essays, Creative Writing, and Hands-On Projects to complete. Writing and project choices included topics like researching famous people who were imprisoned in the Tower of London, making a mobile to represent Penn’s life, drawing a family tree for Penn, topographical maps, writing a resume for Penn, and many more.


A few pages (with permission to copy) are included for map and timeline work and taking notes on key facts. Emily worked on these pages as she read the book.

While we chose to just devote one week to the extra activities, there is certainly enough material to develop a longer and more involved unit study on the book. I think books in the Heroes of History would be a great supplement to any history program.

YWAM Publishing Review


YWAM Publishing Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fascinating Chemistry (Schoolhouse Review)

FASchemLOGOstroke copy

Fascinating Education offers three science courses: Fascinating Chemistry, Fascinating Biology, and Fascinating Physics. Each of these courses is composed of online lessons narrated by Dr. Sheldon Margulies, the creator of the program. The “Fascinating” courses are different from  traditional text based science courses. Instead of reading textbooks that are accompanied by illustrations, these courses consist of narration accompanied by photographs, drawings, and animated slides that illustrate the concepts and engage the right side of the brain as well as the left.image
Emily has been using the Fascinating Chemistry course for the past few weeks as a supplement to her regular chemistry course. Fascinating Chemistry has 19 lessons that cover the same topics as other chemistry courses: the structure of the atom, chemical bonds, gases, the mole, solutions, chemical reactions, and so on. Each lesson takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete, and concludes with a test. A written script is also available for each lesson. While this script can be helpful for a student who wants to review or clarify a bit of information, I found it helpful as well, since it enabled me to skim the content of the lesson and keep up with what Emily was learning without taking the time to watch the entire lesson.
Each of the lessons features a menu at the side that allows the student to track his progress through the lesson or to skip back to a topic that he wants to re-watch. Periodically through the lessons are “Catching Your Breath” slides and “What You Know So Far” slides that review the material covered so far. If a student prefers to break the content into parts to view on different days, these slides provide a breaking point.

There is an index of each slide at the left of the screen, enabling the student to monitor progress or to skip to a particular topic. Illustrations are bright and engaging.
Many lessons include labs and/or problems to solve.

Each lesson includes a test that can be taken online or printed out. There is no online record of tests, however. Emily had to remember to show me her test score before she exited the page and it disappeared. Taking a screenshot would work as well. While we would find it helpful for the program to keep track of progress and test scores, how it is currently set up does make it easy for 2 students to use the program.
Fascinating Chemistry is not a lab-heavy program, but labs are included for about half of the lessons and include activities such as growing salt crystals while studying ionic crystals, determining the density of copper by weighing pennies and calculating their volume by dropping them in a graduated cylinder of water, and evaluating the effects of heat on viscosity using vegetable oil and dried peas. The labs are primarily designed to illustrate concepts and don’t require the precision or equipment required by a traditional lab, making them easy to complete at home. We haven’t used the labs because Emily is also doing another full chemistry course with weekly labs, but if Fascinating Chemistry were used alone or as a supplement to a course without a lab, they would be helpful and seemed easy to do.
Emily liked that Fascinating Chemistry provided a lot of information and she thought the pictures were very helpful. She did think that the narrator’s voice was monotonous, though. I agree with her about the voice—it did sound rather monotone and dull if I were listening from another room, although not so much when I was actually watching the slides. This is a program that might work especially well with a student who is looking for alternatives to traditional texts.
Fascinating Chemistry can be used as a full course, and it does seem to cover the same content as other courses I looked at. There is a lot of information packed into each lesson! If you are counting hours for credit, though, the course would come up short of those needed for a full credit unless the lessons were viewed multiple times. Even including the labs, I think a motivated student could complete the course in less than two months. For this reason, I prefer to consider it a supplementary resource.
Emily has enjoyed Fascinating Chemistry. She is doing well on her tests and says she’s learning a lot. Even though she’s already doing another course, she plans to continue with Fascinating Chemistry as a supplement.
Fascinating Education Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fun with Chemistry

This year, we are using The Spectrum Chemistry from and are loving it. This lab-heavy course includes two lessons in the text each week and one lab. We have a lab group of three students who meet on Friday afternoons for their weekly lab. I’m the type who usually gathers together lab equipment rather than buying a prepared kit in order to save money, but this time, we have the purchased kit (which is really necessary for this course—it includes a huge amount of chemicals and equipment). It’s been such a time saver for me!

The first week, the students learned about lab safety procedures. Although the chemicals included in this set aren’t particularly dangerous in small quantities, the students are learning to handle them safely. Their experiment involved testing the effects of four different chemicals on aluminum foil, polystyrene (packing peanuts) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and discussing the need for using protective materials that will not react with chemicals (such as PVC gloves in some cases).


The second week, they learned to do serial dilution to the point of extinction with a dyed chemical and calculated the concentration, mass, and ratio to water of each dilution.


On week three, they compared the densities of two chemicals by layering them in a vial. Then they calculated the actual density of the potassium carbonate crystal that they had dissolved in water.


The labs each week reinforce the bookwork and involve a lot of precise measuring and calculating—both fun and challenging!  I’ll share more later as our year progresses!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada)

During our Montana trip, we took a whirlwind 2-day trip into Canada, driving from Eureka, MT into British Columbia, Alberta, and Banff National Park. My aunt noted that the town of Banff had changed considerably in the 20 years since she’d been there. The mountains and scenery were beautiful and we enjoyed visiting the Banff hot springs, where a resort and Roman-style bath/pool existed in the early 20th century.




The glaciers near Lake Louise


We also passed several curling rinks—we don’t see those in Alabama!